I've been wanting to see Oldboy for quite a while, but it's hard to press play when you expect a revenge film along the lines of Hostel or I Spit On Your Grave. On occasion, I do enjoy those type of films, but I have to be in the right mood. However, I was pleasantly surprised when this movie was much more. Sure, it has some pretty gruesome scenes, but Oldboy has a mystery that keeps you driving for answers.
The story follows Oh Dae-Su (played by Choi Min-sik), a man who has been imprisoned for 15 years. Although he receives food and water, he has no idea why he's being held captive or who's doing it. One day, after being awakened from a drug-induced state, Oh Dae-Su is no longer in confinement. With his release, he has no idea where to find his daughter and can't go home since he was blamed for his wife's murder. Luckily, a young sushi chef named Mi-do (played by Kang Hye-jeong) falls in love with him and provides shelter. Looking to get revenge, can Oh Dae-Su uncover who put him through 15 years of pain and suffering?
This movie is very intriguing, yet disturbing. Apparently, if you have money, you can imprison someone if you have a grudge against them. Although they provide food, cleaning services, and cable television, the real torture is having no idea why you are being locked away. I can understand paying this service if someone murdered your family in cold blood. However, in Oh Dae-Su's case, when he was in high school, he spread word about a guy named Lee Woo-jin who was banging his sister. This is a pretty mean thing to say about someone, but it was true. Even though Lee's sister ended up killing herself to avoid humiliation, did Oh really deserve the punishment for words he can barley remember saying? As unfair as it seems, if you only take one thing away from this film, remember, if you have nothing nice to say, it's better to say nothing at all.
One other disturbing factor is the amount of incest that occurs. I guess Oh could have kept his mouth shut, but Lee shouldn't have fooled around with his sister either. Not only did Lee sleep with her, but he took erotic pictures of her and even knocked her up. And to make the situation even more deranged, Lee got his revenge on Oh by masterminding a twisted plan of hypnosis so he would unknowingly fornicate with his daughter after being freed. Yes, creative, but very sick...
Like other revenge films, we hate to see the protagonist fall, but love to see them pick themselves back up. With Oh introduced as a pathetic drunk, we see his transformation from a feeble man into a force of havoc. Making the best of his suffering, Oh developed his fighting skills while watching television during imprisonment. Putting his prowess to good use, there is an awesome scene where Oh fights his way through hordes of gang members in scrolling-video-game-style.
Setting this film apart from other revenge flicks, Oh must fulfill his curiosity before getting even with Lee. Even though he encounters Lee early on in the film, Oh can't kill him right away because Lee won't reveal why he put him through years of suffering. However, this only makes the character development stronger as we witness Oh's endurance to pain and his fearless attitude.
Besides a few hokey CGI effects (like Oh hallucinating ants are crawling underneath his skin), this is a great film directed by Park Chan-wook. It has an appealing character and a captivating story. As the second installment to Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy was highly praised by Tarantino at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival (which is quite a compliment from the Kill Bill Master himself). Overall, I enjoyed this film a lot, but I don't recommend to anyone who only watches chick flicks.
So on Death List Five, Oldboy ranks #4.